The cells of the brain cannot function more than a few minutes without oxygen, and so the brain is very interested in the way we breathe.
It’s quite literally a matter of survival: when your breathing changes so does your heart rate, a quick fast shallow breath, speeds up the heart and a slow deep breath slows it down. The difference is how the body reacts, fast breathing can elicit fear and adrenaline, thinking about running, whereas slow breathing is calm and a sense of safety. The brain monitors the ratio, intensity, location and rate of our breathing.
How we breath allows the brain to interpret the information and this can also determine our emotions. The emotion of anger causes the nasal passages to flare, the eyes to open widely and the heart race. When we feel calm and relaxed the heart beats at a slower rate than the normal 10-12 breaths per minute, it can be reduced to as low as 3-6 breaths per minute. The way you breath can change your emotions, anxiety is an example of this, poor breathing habits that are shallow in the top of the chest over time lead to a heavy chest feeling and anxiety.
Slow breathing moves the body into the parasympathetic nervous system, known as rest and digest. For this to happen your breath must be longer on the exhale, than the inhale. Breathing slowly, yet deeply into the belly, imagining a piece of string tied around our belly, expanding with each inhale and then reducing with the exhale. The lobes on the Lungs are sensory lobes that detect how you are breathing, the ones positioned at the base of the lung are slow fibres and the ones at the top are fast fibres. When you breathe deeply into the lungs it activates the slow ones and induces calm.
If you breathe shallowly it is more into the upper chest, this style of breathing uses both the accessory muscles of the neck, shoulders and upper back, this is when tension and pain can be felt and can become chronic over a great length of time. When you learn to breathe deeply you soften these muscles allowing for relaxation. Deep breathing delivers more oxygen to the cells of your body, shallow causes poorly oxygenated cells that over time leaves them in a state of activation which causes stress.
Understanding the importance of breathwork and learning to breathe correctly changes mood, hormones, sleep, energy and your overall health and wellbeing.